What happens to your body when stress hits, what causes it, and which coping methods actually work.


Causes of stress, symptoms, prevention and treatment

Feeling stressed? Sometimes stress, the body’s mental and physical reaction to certain events, both good and bad, can be helpful, but stress becomes problematic when a person has difficulty dealing with its effects. The way a person reacts to stress can impact their mental and physical health. If stress is ongoing, it can boost the risk of diseases such as depression and heart disease.

Stress causes Coping with stress — which may be caused by external forces and events, such as work, family-related issues and other occurrences — results in the body undergoing a stress response: the body releases adrenaline, then  stored sugars and fats, which provoke feelings of pressure and fatigue. During this phase, a person may drink more coffee or alcohol, or experience anxiety. Chronic stress can cause insomnia and serious illness, such as heart disease or mental illness.

Stress symptoms Signs of stress include feelings of irritability, sadness or guilt; anxiety or depression; trouble sleeping; fatigue; headaches; high blood pressure; diarrhea, constipation or upset stomach; back pain; shortness of breath; change in weight or appetite; and neck and shoulder tension.

Stress diagnosis/tests There’s no specific test for diagnosing stress but if you’re concerned about your stress levels or your ability to cope with stress, talk to your doctor who may run blood and urine tests and take your medical history and family health history to rule out a medical condition or mental health disorder.

Stress treatment Counseling may help a person who is struggling to cope with stress. Relaxation exercises, such as meditation, activate the body’s relaxation response, which helps the body counteract stress. Exercise and relaxation exercises help release pent-up energy and tension and release feel-good brain chemicals.

Stress prevention Pinpointing what makes you stressed is essential so that you are aware of what you need to avoid or manage better.

• When you feel stress mounting, breathe deeply to calm yourself, avoid junk food and sugar which provide a temporary fix but will make you feel more irritable later when your blood sugar drops.

• Cut back on caffeine and drink more water to keep your body and brain hydrated.

• Exercise 30 minutes five times weekly.

• Get enough sleep to feel rested and do relaxation exercises to help relieve daily tension.

If you’re finding it hard to cope with the amount of stress in your job or life in general, talk to your health care provider.

More info from Chatelaine
Eat to beat stress
Is feeling stress making you sick?
How to relieve stress with exercise
Are you a stress spender?

Outside resources
Health Canada
Canadian Mental Health Association